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First Wikipedia Science Conference Held in London
Wikipedia has a (somewhat undeserved) reputation for scientific inaccuracy and a “free for all” approach to the information it distributes. In an effort to bring more scientists and academics into the fold of Wikipedia editors, the first Wikipedia Science Conference was held in London on the 2nd and 3rd of September.
The online encyclopaedia has been around since 2001, and when it emerged learning institutions almost immediately started banning students from referencing the site. As a wiki that could be edited by anyone, Wikipedia was seen as unreliable at best. However, in the last few years, a major sea change has taken place in the way the site is run and edited. As Martin Poulter, meeting organiser, points out in the Nature article on the conference, “Wikipedia is a community of ultra-pedants who care about facts being right.”
This team of ultra-pedants is now trying to engage the scientific and academic communities in the hope of encouraging experts in their field to contribute. There is some debate over the accuracy and quality of Wikipedia entries, with one study finding them to be reliable and another finding that they are considerably flawed. It is possible some areas of the site are more accurate than others, and the “Wikipedians” are hoping that by bridging the gap between academia and the online encyclopaedia they can resolve this discrepancy.
There is a so-called “cultural barrier” between experts with busy schedules and enthusiastic volunteer editors. With this in mind, Wikipedia has made a concerted effort to reach out to scientists by, among other things, brushing up their biographies. Thirty percent of the 1,000 fellows accepted by the Royal Society in the last 20 years have no Wikipedia page of their own. The University of Manchester’s Duncan Hull spearheaded a campaign to tackle this by hiring a “Wikipedian in residence” at the university. Hull told the conference: “if [scientists] find out they’ve got an accurate biography of them and their work, that might change their view about Wikipedia.”
The conference was a success, with a keynote speech from Dame Wendy Hall of the University of Southampton and a range of informative talks on everything from the use of Wikipedia to annotate scientific databases to ethical approaches to Wikipedia and research. The conference also included drop-in training sessions on editing Wikipedia and two “hackathons”, where participants could work on upcoming Wikimedia projects.
The practice of sharing scientific information is moving forward at a considerable pace, and the team behind ActualHCA intend to play their part by promoting the use of technology that provides superior data. By allowing for identity retention and the measurement of more natural behaviour, ActualHCA offers keen Wikipedians very exciting findings to write about.